China targets environmental crimes by moving against serial polluters

Death penalty could be imposed

A woman wearing a mask walks past the CCTV building during severe pollution on January 23rd this year in Beijing. There is growing public anger about pollution in China. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

A woman wearing a mask walks past the CCTV building during severe pollution on January 23rd this year in Beijing. There is growing public anger about pollution in China. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Fri, Jun 21, 2013, 01:00


Serious polluters in China could face the death penalty as authorities this week stepped up the courts’ judicial powers to punish companies who commit grave environmental crimes.

There is growing public anger about pollution in China. Smog clouds the cities, rivers are foul with waste and even the food supply is threatened by poisoned earth. A new judicial explanation which took effect this week guarantees the enforcement of environment-related laws and regulations, “which have long been lax and superficial in China”, reported the Xinhua news agency.

“The environmental watchdog will strengthen monitoring measures, especially on enterprises that previously used toxic substances and discharged dangerous waste, or are located in environmentally-sensitive areas where major environmental pollution incidents have happened over the past one or two years,” the statement noted.


Police powers
The rules will beef up police powers and those of environmental protection officers to co-operate in investigating crimes of environmental pollution.

“In the most serious cases the death penalty could be handed down,” stated the document.

The death penalty is often imposed for corruption and other economic crimes. “All force should be mobilised to timely uncover law-breaking clues of environmental pollution,” it said.

There have been efforts made before at a national level to improve the power of the authority to combat pollution, but they have tended to fail at the local level where authorities rely on tax income from local firms and turn a blind eye.

In recent years, China’s middle class has taken to the streets to protest environmental degradation. The Communist Party fears such protests could undermine stability and erode support from a key constituency for single-party rule.

Meanwhile, top political adviser Yu Zhengsheng said greater efforts were required to build a better environment in China.

“A sound eco-environment is the highest bliss for people’s livelihoods,” said Mr Yu, who chairs the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.